One afternoon late last week Pirate Manager Danny Murtaugh stood among the living grassblades of Chicago's Wrigley Field, waiting stoically to be interviewed for television before a game with the Cubs. There was a faraway look not only in his squinted eyes but also in his general demeanor, which is that of a dignified, no longer young but not yet entirely hors de combat pug dog. Before Murtaugh went on the air, an interviewer asked about his theory of managing. "You can't stay up for 162 games," Murtaugh said. "So we try to keep on an even keel."
Then he stepped before the television camera. He did not appear to be hanging on the announcer's question, but when it turned out to be the same one as before, he answered it again without hesitation. "You can't stay up for 162 games," he said. "So we try to keep on an even keel."
On the surface, that may seem a disappointingly fiat view of the Pirates. After all, they have spent the last few weeks not merely cruising along at levelheaded speed, but pushing to a strong 3�-game lead in the National League East after being as many as 4� games out of first in May. They do not play all that evenly; they can win overwhelmingly one day and lose sloppily the next. And, however even its keel may be, other parts of the Pirates' ship seem a little out of kilter. For instance, the crew. It includes Panamanian Catcher Manny Sanguillen, who has grown a mustache and shaved his head, so that he looks like a Tartar; 6'7" rookie pitching phenom John Candelaria, who sat out of baseball when he was between ages 16 and 19, figuring he had already sufficiently impressed the big-league scouts; a veteran pitcher, Dock Ellis, who says he nearly went off to Florida last week; a bunch of batters who will take a cut at nearly anything that moves and has stitches on it; and a big hitter, Willie Stargell, who knows he is swinging well when the flesh of his fingers is being torn.
Last week in Montreal, where the Pirates won three times before leaving for Chicago where they blew a July Fourth doubleheader and then won two in a row, the bilingual scoreboard reminded the crowd that Pittsburgh last had won a World Series in 1971 from Les Orioles de Baltimore. Since then, the Pirates have suffered grave blows: Murtaugh's heart condition, Roberto Clemente's plane-crash death and ace righthander Steve Blass' mysterious, terminal loss of control. There have been recurrent arm troubles among the pitchers (former starter Bob Moose's arm developed such a profound problem that he had to have a rib removed), and slumps among established hitters, such as Bob Robertson's fall from .271 one year to .193 the next.
But Murtaugh was not just making talk when he spoke of stability. Certainly he looks as if he would have no more trouble keeping his keel even than would a fireplug in Iowa. Last week he suffered from a cold, a fever and a backache, yet even when he was out in the middle of the playing field yelling at umpires, he kept a solid, apparently comfortable stance. With both hands tucked into his waistband behind his back, Murtaugh gave the appearance of a man standing on a beach in voluminous Bermuda shorts, looking out over the ocean and serenely recollecting the days when he used to go into the water.
And with a 30-13 record since May 24, his team is well on its way toward finishing first in the East for the fifth time in the division's seven-year existence. Just about the only good thing the Pirates have not been able to do this season is win in Philadelphia, but then the second-place Phillies have not yet won in Pittsburgh. These things even out.
How can the Pirates go through so many changes and still come out on an even keel? For One thing, they are deep. No Pittsburgh player came close to being elected to this year's All-Star team, but they descend upon you in swarms, with undismissable, if not sensational, names like Richie Zisk and Bill Robinson in the outfield, Rennie Stennett and Richie Hebner in the infield, Dave Giusti, Bruce Kison, Ken Brett and Jim Rooker on the mound.
Who points the way for this rosterful of not-quite-All-Stars? Pirate Photographer Les Banos, who ought to know about leaders since, as a Hungarian secret agent in World War II, he chauffeured Goering, gives a terse account of why there is no explicit, gung-ho leadership on the team: "No followers." But the Pirates do include one of the foremost heavy presences in baseball, Stargell. Stargell has a powerful bearing, he is cool, proud, but approachable, and when he begins to limber up for a day's hitting, he takes a bat and twirls it, stretches with it, rolls his heavy muscles as he loops it around. Then he steps into the cage and windmills it menacingly a couple of times as he awaits the pitch. When the delivery comes, whip, the bat flashes like a Muhammad Ali jab, and the ball goes a long way, particularly if there are thin strips of adhesive tape around several of Stargell's fingers as there were last week.
"The skin's tearing away there," he said. "That means I'm swinging right. If those places start healing without tape on them, I know the bat's wearing on the wrong spots. But when they start tearing down close to the bone, I put the tape over them."
Stargell also believes in an even keel. "We have a uniqueness in our clubhouse," he says. "Unless it's a very tough game and we did something to help the other team win, we're the same in the clubhouse, win or lose. We stick together, and we keep grinding together. Then it gets down to September—a lot of people call that the pressure month, but I call it the joy month. That's when I enjoy playing. Everybody's tired, mentally and physically, but everybody's going out there anyway and scratching. We all scratch together.